An American Odyssey in Song, The Route Map and Simon & Garfunkel

This blog, as anyone who visits here regularly will know, pretty much does what it says on the tin. It’s not so much a vehicle for sharing music as a web-log/web-diary with a featured song thrown in. Inspiration can come from anywhere, but it’s usually based on whwebdiary-blahat’s going on in my life at the time, and there’s usually a song that fits the bill.

So far I’ve not been able to commit to the discipline of a series but a bit of synchronicity has come about which has made me rethink. Last week over at Yeah, Another Blogger, Neil wrote about how he was going to get back into the discipline of reading books and I commented that in 2015, the year before I took up blogging, I had set myself the task of reading my way around the 50 US states. The state always had to be the main character, and it was great. First I read my way round the Southern States (e.g. Fried Green Tomatoes…. , Gone With The Wind, The Orchard Keeper) then for a change of scenery, I headed up to the Great Lakes and started to read my way round the states up there (e.g. Shotgun Lovesongs set in Wisconsin). I had a route map and everything but sadly when I discovered blogging at the start of 2016, due to time constraints, the journey ended.

img051 The wonderful post written by Rol last week over at My Top Ten about the song Wichita Lineman reminded me that when I myself wrote about that song (along with Galveston and By The Time I Get To Phoenix), I had mentioned that my plan was to do a series at some point, journeying round the 50 states in song, and here we are at last – My reading journey may have come to an end but my “50 State American Odyssey in Song” is about to begin!

As a bit of background to this obsession with travelling round the 50 states, whether in book form or in song, I think it’s because it had always been a dream of mine to actually make that journey at some point. I am however starting to think it might never happen. As a kid growing up in rural Scotland, I watched an awful lot of films and telly set in what we called, “America”. On wet Sunday afternoons when there were no outdoor chores to be done, my dad and I used to watch classic MGM Musicals, and Westerns starring John Wayne, set in every corner of that vast land. Also, the music I loved as a kid usually came from Americans such as Elvis, The Monkees (Davy Jones being the exception of course) and The Mamas & the Papas. Oh yes, as soon as I was old enough (maybe about ten), and had saved up enough pocket-money, I was going to buy one of those Greyhound bus tickets and be transported from one real life filmset to the next……

But then I grew up. The childhood dreams dissipated and Europe became my destination of choice (although sadly I’m not sure how welcome we’re going to be after all the “triggering” that’s been going on of late). Despite a few far flung trips over the years, none have been across the Atlantic, and (not wanting to offend any of my American blogging buddies), that 50 State Odyssey is no longer at the top of my real life bucket list. It will therefore have to be of the virtual nature, and in song.

Where to start then? As it turns out this is not going to be as easy as I thought. I wanted to complete the journey only entering and leaving the same state once, but the original route map I put together for my reading challenge started in Florida and ended in Maine – Having racked my brains and even done a fair bit of “Googling”, I can’t find any songs I’m familiar with that mention place names from either of those states. Likewise, when I find artists who were born in either state (e.g. Jim Morrison of The Doors was born in Florida), it turns out they moved around a lot, so can’t really be associated with any one place.

For this first post therefore, where I’m simply setting out the rules, I will just include a song that tells a tale of someone, who unlike my 10-year-old self, did actually take the plunge and bought a Greyhound bus ticket for a trip across America. In my digital music database the most common song title to pop up in different guises is in fact America, but this one by Simon & Garfunkel is my favourite. Although released as a single to promote a Greatest Hits album in 1972 it was written by Paul Simon much earlier, inspired by a 1964 road trip he took with his girlfriend – Perfect for this post, and I wonder, did he indeed “find America” on that trip?

America by Simon & Garfunkel:

So, “What’s It All About?” – I am excited about this challenge and I love researching the back story to the songs that have formed the “tracks of my years” but in this case I may need a little help. I think I’m ok with most of the 50 states but if I’m going to follow my continuous route map without cheating, I’m going to need some input from my blogging buddies. The starting point for the journey could be either Florida or Maine but at this rate, left to my own devices, it’s going to be something by Miami Sound Machine for Florida or something from the musical Carousel for Maine and I really don’t want to go down either of those routes. A song that refers to a place name is the way to go, just as Jimmy Webb used Wichita, Galveston and Phoenix in three of his very best songs – Oh Jimmy, where are you when I need you?

Any suggestions for songs (that I’m likely to be able to write about) associated with Florida or Maine would be gratefully received – You know where the comments boxes are. Once I get started it should be fun, it’s just that first step…….

America Lyrics

(Song by Paul Simon)

 

Let us be lovers,
We’ll marry our fortunes together.
I’ve got some real estate
Here in my bag.So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner’s pies,
And walked off
To look for America.
“Kathy”, I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
Michigan seems like a dream to me now.It took me four days
To hitch-hike from Saginaw.
“I’ve come to look for America.”Laughing on the bus,
Playing games with the faces,
She said the man in the gabardine suit
Was a spy.I said, “Be careful,
His bow tie is really a camera.”
“Toss me a cigarette,
I think there’s one in my raincoat.”
We smoked the last one
An hour ago.So I looked at the scenery,
She read her magazine;
And the moon rose over an open field.
“Kathy, I’m lost”, I said,
Though I knew she was sleeping.
“I’m empty and aching and
I don’t know why.”Counting the cars
On the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come
To look for America,
All come to look for America,
All come to look for America.

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was recorded for the film of the same name and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might finally work out the answer to his question, "What's it all about?"

20 thoughts on “An American Odyssey in Song, The Route Map and Simon & Garfunkel”

    1. Thanks for this Marie – Quite a few good ones here that I had been considering for other states but I really don’t know the suggestions for Maine or Florida at all. The Mountain Goats indeed. I’m sure you will be of invaluable help however as the journey progresses (although it my take some time!).

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    1. Thanks for this – I had never associated Jonathan Richman with New England before mainly because I seem to have been really remiss at listening to the lyrics of songs properly in my younger day. Good suggestion though although may have to save that one for some of the other New England States that I don’t have a song for.

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    1. Thanks – Good suggestion for Florida but a song I had never heard before so tricky for me to write about as not really one of the “tracks of my years”. Keep ’em coming though – Oh, I see you did!

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  1. And I bet the young whippersnappers and flibbertigibbets who compiled that Guardian article didn’t mention the greatest ever road song which mentions Bangor, Maine – Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road”.

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    1. So far this is the hot favourite as I do have a bit of a personal story to tell about this one – Looks as if we might be starting the trip in Maine!

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  2. Really looking forward to seeing (and hearing) this unfold, Alyson. It will be fascinating. The US states all sound so exotic – even the very fact that they are mentioned in so many songs – can’t quite imagine the same thing happening over here and finding tracks with titles or mentions of Leicestershire or West Midlands… (then again, who knows, we have many artists who are masters of that sort of homegrown poetry like Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker so could be a new challenge?!)
    The America of my childhood seemed to me much like I think it did to you – the place we saw in MGM musicals and Westerns. About 25 years ago I took my first ever aeroplane flight – not a shuttle to Scotland or across the Channel to France, but the 8 hours to New York! A massive thrill from start to finish seeing as even the flight itself was a whole new experience. And when I got to NY I wandered around in slight disbelief at seeing for real all the places I’d only ever seen before on celluloid. Part of me would still like to buy that Greyhound bus ticket and do the whole thing…. but I don’t think I’d want to under the Trump administration!

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    1. Glad to have you along for the ride! Like you I thought place names in songs only worked for American ones and at first my old blogging buddy Chris agreed, but then proved me wrong when he wrote a post all about British place names in songs – https://windingroadblog.com/2016/07/22/the-wisdom-of-pop-songs-kitchen-songs-2/

      I must admit although the trip round the 50 states will probably never happen now, a trip to NY is still at the top of the bucket list. Whenever we plan it there ends up being a family emergency, or something that gets in the way, but hopefully soon. I think I would be the same, wandering around in disbelief, seeing all the places that I’ve only ever seen in films.

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  3. I have loads to offer, obviously, but I’ll stick to the ones you might know / like…

    Florida:

    Billy Joel – Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)
    Bertie Higgins – Key Largo
    Jimmy Buffet – Margaritaville (OK, there’s no actual town called Margaritaville… but nobody says Florida to me like JB)

    And, of course, you’ll want to include something by Miami Sound Machine and Flo Rida.

    Maine:

    Yeah, I’d go with Lynchie’s King of the Road suggestion for Bangor, Maine

    Otherwise…

    Joan Baez / Marianne Faithfull – Portland Town
    Fiddler’s Dram – Didn’t We Have A Lovely Time (The Day We Went To Bangor) Erm… maybe not the same Bangor

    Of course, such things always make me want to join in. I did a few American cities back in the early days of my blog, maybe even a couple of states, but it just seems like too big a commitment. Me, I’m a “third box car, midnight train” kinda guy. Wherever it takes me…

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    1. “I have loads to offer, obviously” – Yes I thought you would but thanks for sticking to ones you think I might know and like!

      At the moment the prime candidate to start the ball rolling is King of the Road as I do have a bit of a touching story to tell about that song. Florida and Flo Rida may have a long wait before they pop up on these pages but let’s see how it goes – Don’t want to sicken myself of it and then stop half way round the journey.

      Sadly all the best songs with place names are from the Southern States and if I do start with Maine I might be continually sending out an SOS whenever I get stuck – but part of the fun of it hopefully.

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    1. Oh no, if you’re having trouble coming up with suggestions, we Brits are really going to struggle then!

      I discovered Tallahassee Lassie the other day when I was madly “googling”, looking for inspiration. It is exactly what I’m looking for, a song with a distinctive place name (and in this case the state capital) but sadly one that I would find difficult to write about as no personal associations with it. Thanks for this suggestion though and hoping for more from you down the line.

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    1. A great version indeed but was it really from 1972! Sounds as if it should have been much later – very Ramones-like. I am troubled though – there was a video very much like that one for a mid-70s release but can’t remember who did it now. Going to bother me now all night!

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      1. Flamin’ Groovies were punk long before The Ramones and yes the band released “Slow Death” b/w “Tallahassee Lassie” in June 1972. I know that for a fact, because I reviewed it for one of the newspapers i was working for at the time. It was on the Liberty/UA label and I was on reasonably friendly terms with their then head of publicity, Richard Ogden – a delightful character who went on to manage The Skids (!). Anyways – part of my job was to review loads of free singles and albums sent to me by all types of record companies and go along to see bands at The Capitol, Beach Ballroom, Cowdray Hall, AU Union, Aberdeen College of Ed Union (where SAHB played their 1st ever gig – actually they were still called Tear Gas, but Alex Harvey, who’d just started rehearsing with them, joined them on stage for the 2nd half of the show), the Music Hall etc. I got to interview all manner of rock stars, from the smallest struggling artistes to the Gods/Goddesses of Rock. And to top all that – I actually got paid to do it. In my defence, I also did loads of stories on Aberdeen and North East bands and publicised their gigs alongside the big names. I’m still in touch with a few N-East musos from those days. All in all, it was great fun.

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        1. What a dream job – I’ve kind of worked out recently what your blogspot name is by the way so sorry if I was a bit dense earlier. Just because we lived in the North of Scotland it certainly didn’t mean we missed out on a music scene and your job obviously got you up close and personal with some of the greats. One my friends worked on the student newspaper and they interviewed Chrissie Hynde when she appeared at our student union the week The Pretenders were at No. 1 with Brass in Pocket – good timing. Also, one of my ideas for a blog series was going to be “Capitol Concerts” – Between the early ’70s and mid ’80s I went to loads at that little theatre/cinema on Union Street – Rolling Stones in 1981!!
          As for the Flamin’ Groovies I wasn’t doubting the year btw it was more of a – Wow, was that really 1972, it was punk long before punk as you say. Thanks for the background info – been curious. I knew some people who worked on Aberdeen newspapers – a city with a great history of quality journalism.

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  4. Trying to avoid the obvious (Sweet Home Alabama and California Dreamin), a couple of oldies from Georgia you might like:
    The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Charlie Daniels Band/Johnny Cash (2 versions)
    Georgia on my mind by Ray Charles

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    1. I will probably cover the obvious ones actually so don’t have a problem with those kind of suggestions. Have covered California Dreamin before but I like all these others. Loads of Georgia songs as it turns out but not many set in Maine. Those New England States are going to be tricky!

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